'30 Rock' star Chapman heading to White Plains for pop culture event

Grizz Chapman, left, appears at a 2009 premiere Grizz Chapman, left, appears at a 2009 premiere party for "White Collar" with co-star Kevin Brown. Photo Credit: USA Network Jason DeCrow

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Now that NBC's "30 Rock" has wrapped, actor Grizz Chapman can spend some of his newfound free time mingling with local fans and fellow celebrities at Saturday's Pop Goes the Culture event in White Plains.

Before the Tina Fey-helmed sitcom finished filming its seventh and final season in December, Chapman told Newsday Westchester he'd been talking with his friend, pop culture writer Jon Chattman, about making a nostalgic event like Pop Goes the Culture happen.

"I just thought it'd be fun to have a little music, have a little fun, tell some jokes and just have a fun night in Westchester," the "30 Rock" star said.

Chattman, the brainchild behind the celebration of eclectic pop culture icons, not only planned Saturday's variety show and tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony at the White Plains Performing Arts Center but also recruited honorees in Chapman, "The Magic Garden" stars Paula Janis and Carole Demas, fitness guru John Basedow and wrestling legend Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (whose autobiography Chattman co-wrote).

"I wanted to put together an event that's almost as weird as I am," said Chattman of the festivities, which were originally scheduled for Nov. 2 but postponed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. "It's almost like a throwback to the 1970s variety show, which doesn't exist anymore."

It's no surprise he's staging the event in Westchester, given his lifelong connection to the Hudson Valley. Born and raised in Yonkers, the Mamaroneck resident serves as the director of communications at Music Conservatory of Westchester.

"I think, for too long, in order to do something cool, you'd have to go to the city, or basically watch TV," Chattman said. "And I just got the idea: Why can't Westchester host an awards show, and why can't it be something totally offbeat? I think Westchester deserves to have some fun, and I think these honorees are not the types of people who are honored all the time."

Chapman, Janis and Demas won't have to travel far for the festivities, either, as they, too, are Westchester residents. Janis calls White Plains home; Demas lives in Irvington.

As for Chapman, the Brooklyn native prefers to keep his exact residency private -- but he's happy to discuss almost anything else, especially his "30 Rock" co-stars, including longtime friend Tracy Morgan and former boss Fey.

Early in Chapman's nearly 15-year friendship with Morgan, the two shared a conversation in the parking lot of a New York City club where Chapman used to work. "We'd sit and talk a lot, because I was a bodyguard, and I wanted to do more than that at the time," recalled Chapman, who'd served as a bodyguard for comedian Katt Williams when he wasn't working security shifts at clubs. "And [Morgan] said, 'Just keep at it. We're gonna do a show together one day.' He goes off and he does 'Saturday Night Live,' and I go off to my regular life."

Chapman said the two didn't give that chat much thought until they found each other on the set of "30 Rock," which he called a godsend.

"Even when we both got the show, I didn't know he was on it, and he didn't know I was on it ... until the first day of shooting," he said. "Then he was like, 'Oh, you're part of the posse?' And then it just clicked from there. That's why the chemistry that you see on camera is for real, because we're true friends."

That's not to say he necessarily thought "30 Rock" was a laugh riot from the get-go.

"When we did the pilot, I was like, 'Ah, it was OK, but it wasn't that funny,' but ... probably by episode three, [it picked up] and I said, 'This is going to be around for awhile,' " he said. "We did some of the craziest stuff in episode three; we stole a boat, Tracy jumps off a boat in it, and I tried to help him steal the boat. It was just funny."

One of the primary reasons -- if not the reason -- the show found its footing was because of Fey, who created, starred in and wrote for the show. Asked to describe her in three words, Chapman offered "sexy, intelligent and genius."

Because the show has lasted seven seasons and airs in syndication, Chapman says it has changed his life in many ways.

Off the set, it has helped him raise awareness for organ donation. A spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation, Chapman has returned to good health after kidney failure in 2008 and 13 years of hypertension led to a 2010 kidney transplant. The donor, Arizona native Ryan Perkins, wasn't even a "30 Rock" fan when he agreed to donate his kidney.

"We're still very close these days," said Chapman, who's also launching a charity called Organ Angels in an effort to facilitate and expedite the organ donation process. "I'm part of the Perkins family."

With interests ranging from music to model management, Chapman hasn't decided what he'll be doing now that "30 Rock" has come to a close; the final episode airs Jan. 31. But he'll always have the memories -- and the hardware -- to remind him just how special the past seven seasons have been.

"If I never, ever do anything again, you can't take away my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] Awards; you can't take away my Emmys; you can't take away my being broadcast into millions and millions of homes around the world," he said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to bring laughter to the world."

IF YOU GO

What: Pop Goes the Culture, featuring Grizz Chapman, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Paula Janis, Carole Demas and John Basedow

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19

Info: White Plains Performing Arts Center, 11 City Place, White Plains; 914-328-1600; www.wppac.com; $10 online, $15 at the door

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